The Perfect Reply: Grammar Pedants and How to Deal With Them

Some say they never think of it in time. When it comes to battling the pedant at the Writer’s Table, I never know it in time. Mostly because I haven’t spent my life wondering how I can turn a comma in to a club and beat others into a snivelling pulp with it.


It’s safe to say the pedant and I take separate routes through life. I don’t really understand a bunch of petty dictat –  em,  I mean, those with a more rigid approach to language. Am I just much more easy going? I took a test once, it told me I was 110% not a pedant. And no, that didn’t annoy me.

We all have our pet peeves, but there is a certain breed, common amongst writers, though I think they spread themselves quite evenly across the interwebs, who really deserve the perfect reply (which may also involve a club). It’s a ‘you dumb me big fat smartie beat you dumb aass..’ sort of caveman mentality at work. Unfortunately you really can’t point that out without getting a sad superior head shake in return and probably another lecture on the pathetic justifications of the uneducated. Oooh or worse they might be able to salvage a joke at your expense. You’ve essentially admitted to being less smart  – or indeed having fewer smarts –  than them so they win.

Want to make em not win? Wanna make em go red and bluster and genemerally feel like a bigger idiot than they tried to make you look?

(no genemerally isn’t a word, but I’ve been using it in my head for years. I might try and smuggle it in to the English dictionary..)

Listen – read – very carefully, or at least try not to get crumbs stuck in the keys. This is the perfect reply (sadly no club, but yay, no assault charge either..)

The good thing about pedants is they always hit on the same things. Things which fall most often under common usage (ie who gives a frick, it’s so damn unimportant) So even if they don’t try and get you on one of these, just wait five seconds til their next lecture.. They won’t stray too far from this list.


The pedants claim: disinterested means impartiality not boredom, sweetie..

The Perfect Reply: well sweetie, they actually originally meant the opposite. Uninterested was a means of indicating the parties had no vested interest, while disinterest measured your level of ‘could care less’.  Through repeated misuse they started to reverse and now have both been so frequently used either way, that both words are attributed both meanings in the dictionary.


The Pedants Claim: Oh my the disintegration of society. Confronted every time they dare set foot in a supermarket by the TEN ITEMS OR LESS checkout. Don’t people know that ‘less’ can only refer to items referred to as ‘mass nouns’. ie they come in one undistinguishable lump.. coffee, you can have more coffee, less coffee, but you cannot have fewer coffee. Coffee grains on the other hand are known as ‘count nouns’, items which can be individually counted. So you have fewer coffee grains. Since we have counted out ten items, or less, it should be fewer.. 😀 (easiest trick: if there is an s at the end, it’s a fewer..)

The Perfect Reply: Should not involve pointing out the literacy of the average Tesco customer and objecting only when Waitrose follow suit..


Alexander Pope.. He loses in less than eight days.. works better..

Truth, it’s yet another made up rule. And here we can throw that and which in. Amongst countless others. English language has this bad tendency of being like an octopus who didn’t know he was only supposed to have eight legs. Too many countries, too many dialects, too many poets.. We’ve assimilated so much, built so much, that English must cover, so we stretch and tack and tweak and insert. For some, well it sounded right, just isn’t good enough, they need strict rules to distinguish the use and meaning of each word. The fact that clarity isn’t affected? Irrelevant. But history holds them to be liars.

In 1770 a man named Robert Blake observed..

The Word is most commonly used in speaking of a Number; where I should think Fewer would do better. No Fewer than a Hundred appears to me not only more elegant than No less than a Hundred, but more strictly proper

And that’s it really. But feel free to ignore him. Tescos did. And Pope.


The Pedants Claim: While genemerally used to simply mean, raises the question, it is in fact a phrase originally coined by Aristotle which refers to a statement which contains its own conclusion.  Essentially that when you make a claim, which contains within itself your evidence, you are in fact ‘begging the question’… ie This argument is illogical because it fails to make any sense..

The Perfect Reply: This one might be my favourite. It’s relatively obscure so you can bet your bottie that whoever picked you up on it is definitely trying to impress – if he’s cute let him, otherwise… The reason I like this one so much is because its actually layer upon layer of misses – misquotes from mistranslations from misunderstandings – all by academics I’m fairly sure were so smugly assured of themselves they never stopped to question a thing. It’s the perfect case of hanging yourself. A Deacon Brody of pedantry..

And it all began with a simple translation error. Never quote wiki if you really want to impress (it’s where we all go first) but reorder this in your own words..

The term was translated into English from Latin in the 16th century. ….Petitio (from peto), in the post-classical context in which the phrase arose, means “assuming” or “postulating”, but in the older classical sense means “petition”, “request” or “beseeching”.[2][4]Principii, genitive of principium….“basis” or “premise” (of an argument). Literally petitio principii means “assuming the premise” or “assuming the original point”.

From there we can only assume, as is often the case, a game of Chinese whispers which left us with a little nugget of misappropriated mundanity. ‘Begs the question’ may now belong to a specific type of argument, wherein the proof and theory are one and the same, but it’s also three little common words, which no one has the right to annex for their own usage.


The Pedants Claim: it’s poor English. Lazy.. oh the pedants love a lazy label. Or ignorant. Usually followed by a ‘you have to know the rules to break them’, (the billions of people who end sentences with prepositions and are understood perfectly somehow escapes their attention).

The Perfect Reply: Logic alone will never suffice. We’re dealing with people who view the world through their own release valve..

And don’t quote Winston Churchill. Doing so will get you a …

You’re playing right into their hands with that one, where they can oh so quickly point out it’s a misquote..

No, blindside em, Fry Style. It’s actually a silly made up rule by John Dryden. Trying to discredit the poet Ben Johnson he cited the Latin where the preposition is attached to the noun. A pissyfit and with a dead man at that. Saying you don’t like something is fair game. Saying you don’t credit him as being very good is acceptable though does require some evidence to substantiate. Making up a rule of grammar based on a entirely different language– oh sir, you shame yourself..


oh this one.. this one.. yes… this one. It’s a favourite, for the obvious reason; nothing says I’m intellectual and deep quite like hating on Dan Brown (sub in Tom Cruise or facebook if you don’t get it)

The Pedants Claim: Da means the, so you have essentially written The the..

The Reply: This one is kinda obvious – its a name. What’s he gonna call it, The Vinci Code..? But it goes further than just Dan Brown bashing..

See also ATM machine, PIN number, but since we’re going for the real pretentious pricks here – the Hoi Polloi.. a phrase which has been imported from the Greek. It no longer even has the same meaning as it once did –  where once it meant the majority, it now means riff raff, masses, the great unwashed. And has acquired a snooty overtone. As such like many imported words it has acquired its own meaning within the English language, and that doesn’t include ‘the’. The sin belongs to the Hoi Oligoi (be sure to use this exact phrase and put a nice ironic emphasis on the) who first used it, and that would be Dryden (again..really) and Byron. The rest of us stand in their shadow.

There are loads more… nauseous/nauseated, that/which, decimated.. they always hit the same ones, like I said. The easiest way to refute them (if you have the time and isn’t that the beauty of the internet?) is simply to google them – or lets be honest wiki them. Now and again I make a futile plea for the beauty of the English language, the fluidity, the quirks, the character, the language that proves itself the writer’s friend, allowing self expression and individuality like no other..

But sometimes I just long for a big club..


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